PG&E submits pipeline records, but who will read them? 

PG&E handed some 225,000 pages of documents pertaining to its pipeline welds to state regulators Monday night.

The question now is whether anybody will actually read all of them.

Earlier this month, an independent panel tasked with scrutinizing both PG&E and its regulator, the California Public Utilities Commission, questioned whether the CPUC even had the manpower to read through all the documents it is requiring PG&E to turn over.

The panel was formed in the wake of the San Bruno pipeline explosion, which killed eight people and decimated a residential neighborhood in September. The panel criticized the CPUC for failing to take its role in ensuring a safe system prior to the explosion. But it also looked critically at some of the actions the CPUC has taken since the tragedy.

Panelist Paula Rosput Reynolds told the CPUC it might not make sense to ask PG&E to turn over millions of documents if there is not enough staff to read through them all.

“It’s not clear that more reporting, per se, is necessary. It ends up creating this paperwork cycle,” Rosput Reynolds said.

Nonetheless, PG&E had already been ordered to turn over all the documents it could find about its welds by Monday. The utility provided a hard drive worth of information to the CPUC on Monday — 16,000 documents, 225,000 pages total, plus a 600-page report summarizing the filings.

PG&E spokesman Brian Swanson said that figure in fact represents a small fraction of the documents the company reviewed internally before making the filing.

CPUC spokesman Christopher Chow said that up until now, every document PG&E has turned over has been examined by staff at the agency.

Asked whether that will be the case with the 16,000 documents turned over Monday, CPUC communications chief Terrie Prosper said the administrative law judge in the case “will determine the best course of action for document review moving forward.”

Mark Toney, executive director of consumer advocate The Utility Reform Network, said PG&E and its regulators both should be scrutinizing all the documents — in part to determine what information is missing so it becomes clear which pipelines must be tested. And if the CPUC does not have the staff to do that, then PG&E stockholders should pay for the CPUC to hire more people, Toney said.

“Because this is made necessary through years of negligence by PG&E,” he said. “It’s catch-up work that should have been done all along. We [taxpayers] shouldn’t be charged to do it.”

Fine for 2008 explosion recommended at $26M

State regulators might finally penalize PG&E $26 million for a deadly pipeline explosion that occurred nearly two years before the blast in San Bruno.

On Christmas Eve 2008, a pipeline exploded in the Sacramento suburb of Rancho Cordova, killing one person and injuring five others. A federal investigation into the incident revealed that PG&E was in violation of several safety requirements.

Despite those findings, the California Public Utilities Commission only opened a penalty case against PG&E in December, after the San Bruno explosion had brought pipeline safety into close public view.

On Monday, CPUC staff announced a settlement that would fine the utility $26 million in shareholder funds for its failure to comply with safety regulations. The settlement must still be approved by the full commission.

In a statement, PG&E took full responsibility for the explosion.

“This was a tragic event that never should have happened,” company spokesman Brian Swanson said.

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